It’s better in to live in your mother’s basement, drink beer and play video games all day than to major in English or sociology, go into debt and then live in the basement, says Aaron Clarey, author of Worthless: The Young Person’s Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major.
Federal aid is subsidizing colleges with low graduation, loan repayment and employment rates, writes Judah Bellon on Minding the Campus. Instead of singling out for-profit higher education, regulators should scrutinize the outcomes of all colleges and universities that rely on federal loans and grants.
For-profit colleges enroll more black, Hispanic, low-income and older students than public and nonprofit institutions. Their no-frills programs attract working students who need a flexible schedule, writes Bellon. Technical training is the strong suit of for-profit colleges, which adjust quickly to employer demand. For-profit students are more likely to complete certificates and associate degrees than community college students.
However, for-profit students are much less likely to complete four-year degrees and much more likely to default on student loans. That inspired the U.S. Department of Education’s attempt to enforce “gainful employment” rules limiting aid to programs whose graduates don’t earn enough to pay back their loans.
Regulate the bad applies, writes Bellon. But don’t single out for-profit higher education. If students are failing to graduate for jobs or unable to pay back their loans, it doesn’t matter if they attended a for-profit, private nonprofit or public institution.
Credits that don’t count cost transfer students time, money — and often the opportunity to complete a degree, according to the Hechinger Report.
“One of the most common complaints a legislator gets from a constituent about higher education is, ‘My credits don’t transfer,’” says Davis Jenkins, senior researcher at Teachers College, Columbia University, who has studied the issue.
“This is so common, but it’s heart-rending,” Jenkins says. “And it also pisses me off as a taxpayer.”
A third of students transfer at least once, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center says. Most lose credits along the way. Full-time students average 3.8 years to earn a two-year degree and 4.7 years to get a four-year degree, according to Complete College America. An associate degree requires 60 credits, but the average graduate has earned 80, the advocacy group estimates. Bachelor’s degree graduates average 136.5 credits for a degree that requires 120.
Part of the problem is that public universities are largely funded based on their enrollment, not on whether students actually graduate. So while an institution has a financial incentive to take transfer students to fill seats left vacant when other students drop out, it may not have a financial incentive to help them successfully finish college and move on.
Karen Hernandez started at St. John’s University in New York and transferred after a year and a half to Nassau Community College, with 27 of the 36 credits she’d earned and paid for. After another year and a half, she received an associate’s degree. Then she transferred to Columbia University with 55 of her 63 credits. After three years in college, she faces another three years to complete a bachelor’s degree in art history and human rights. (And, if she graduates, she’ll have a hard time finding a job and paying off her college loans with an art history and human rights degree.)
University faculty often question the quality of courses taught at other institutions.
“Everybody feels that the way they do it is the right way,” says Janet L. Marling, director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students at the University of North Georgia. “To admit that somebody else does it equally well can chip away at their foothold.”
Sometimes students are told their credits will transfer, but don’t realize they won’t count toward their major. They end up with too many electives credits that don’t help them complete a degree. Others don’t learn if their credits transfer for a semester or more.
Some states have passed laws to guarantee associate degree graduates can transfer all their credits to a state university. But it’s a slow process.
It took Florida 10 years to bring its universities and colleges into line on transfer credits, for example. An analysis by a technical college in North Carolina found that only one of its English courses was accepted for core credit by all 16 of that state’s public universities. And some legislative efforts to make universities fix the transfer process have slammed up against the culture of competition.
Almost three years after California legislators demanded that anyone who earns an associate’s degrees at a community college be guaranteed transfer into the California State University system, for instance, students in two-thirds of all majors still don’t qualify, college and university officials there concede.
As more students take online courses, getting credits counted will become even more important. I predict that learning assessment will boom in the coming years as universities come under heavy political pressure to raise graduation rates by crediting what students have learned at other institutions, online, on the job, in the military or whatever.
“Not everyone has to go to a four-year liberal arts college. We still need plumbers,” said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week.
“Why aren’t we graduating more kids not just with a high school diploma but with an industry certification degree?” he asked the auditorium full of conservatives.
According to Rubio,there are 3 million jobs that aren’t being filled because Americans don’t have the right skills for these jobs.
“They need skills for these jobs,” he continued.”So, instead of being a receptionist, she can be an ultra-sound tech.”
Rubio also argued that not only are not enough Americans acquiring useful skills, but so many of these same Americans are graduating from four-year universities swamped in student debt.
The 41-year-old senator recently finished paying off his student loans using the proceeds of his book. He borrowed nearly $150,000 to earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in 1993 and a law degree from the University of Miami in 1996.
On 11D, Laura McKenna advises people considering postsecondary education: “Don’t get an AA degree anywhere but at a super cheap community college . . . live at home, and get a part time job.”
She adds: Don’t get a degree in a profession that doesn’t require a degree. “You don’t need an AA degree in party planning” to be a party planner.
For those going for a bachelor’s degree, don’t borrow more than $15,000, try to finish in four years and “don’t choose a school based on the college atmosphere,” writes McKenna, a former political science professor.
President Obama’s College Scorecard is “a little buggy,” but may help those who can’t spot a rip-off, she writes.
Work for a year before starting college, adds Megan McCardle on The Daily Beast. “You’ll get much more out of the experience, and you won’t need to borrow as much.”
As an English major who went to graduate school, McCardle advises: “Don’t major in English or history. It’s getting hard to overcome a poor major choice by going to grad school.”
Both warn against investing time and money in low-value master’s degrees and PhDs.
In the State of the Union speech, President Obama promised to control college costs and provide a College Scorecard to help students and parents compare costs, graduation rates and loan repayments for any college or university. Some of the data is old and most has been available from other sources, reports the New York Times.
Further, the information is presented as averages and medians that might have little relevance to individual families. The scorecard does connect to each institution’s net price calculator, which allows individualized cost estimates, but it does not provide side-by-side comparisons of multiple schools, as other government sites do.
Meanwhile the Gates Foundation’s Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project is generating more ideas.
In Aligning the Means and the Ends, The Institute for College Access & Success calls for doubling the maximum Pell Grant and giving students 7 1/2 years to complete a degree. Colleges should be rewarded for serving low-income students, TICAS urges. In addition, the white paper recommends:
• Use IRS data to simplify financial aid applications
• Combine income-based loan repayment programs into one plan that assures borrowers of manageable payments and forgiveness after 20 years.
• Eliminate higher education tax benefits and use the savings for Pell Grants and incentives for states and colleges to educate low-income students.
“For students who are willing to study, work, or serve their communities, the federal and state governments, along with their institutions, should make sure they can afford to go to college without the fear of crushing student loan debt,” argues the Education Trust in Doing Away With Debt. the Education Trust.
By taking the federal resources we already spend on higher education and focusing them like a laser on reducing college costs for families with incomes below $115,000 a year (the bottom 80 percent) — providing debt-free education to those below $50,000 (the bottom 40 percent) and no-interest loans with income-based repayment to the rest — we can do much to solve this critical problem without adding to the overall cost of federal student aid.
National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ policy brief discusses reforming student loans, improving consumer information, “rethinking entitlement and professional judgment and ensuring that colleges and students have “skin in the game.”
A “more understandable effective and fair” student aid system doesn’t need to cost taxpayers more money, concludes a New America Foundation report, Rebalancing Resources and Incentives in Federal Student Aid. The study was funded by the Gates Foundation’s Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project.
To eliminate any future “funding cliffs,” Pell Grant funding should be guaranteed, turning it into a true entitlement, the report recommends. In addition, the maximum grant should be increased and year-round funding restored to help students complete degrees more quickly. The “ability to benefit” provision would be restored, opening the door to students who lack a high school diploma or GED.
All this would cost more money, but the report also calls for limiting Pell eligibility to 125 percent of program length to encourage students to move along. In addition, eliminating “the outdated Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program that disproportionately benefits wealthy private institutions” would save money that could help fund Pell Grants.
The report proposes a Pell bonus for community colleges with a graduation and transfer rate of at least 50 percent. “Eligible schools could either use the additional money to reduce the net price they charge their neediest students or to create support programs to help low income students earn their degrees and transfer to four-year colleges.”
Other recommendations would redesign student loans and tax credits.
• Significantly simplifying the federal student loan system and reducing the dangers of default by requiring all borrowers to repay their debt based on a percentage of their earnings. Encouraging colleges to hold down their costs by eliminating both the Parent PLUS and Grad PLUS programs that currently allow for unlimited borrowing.
• Eliminating poorly targeted higher education tax benefits, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, in favor of direct aid for students.
The report also calls for strengthening accountability by “creating a federal student unit record system to provide a clearer picture of how students fare as they proceed through the educational system and into the workforce.”
Eligibility for federal student loans should be limited to 150 percent of program length to discourage prolonged enrollments, the report proposes.
Borrowers who turn to private student loans should be able to declare bankruptcy, if necessary, to clear their debts.
While the report is “wonderful and thought-provoking,” Community College Dean questions whether students can finish a two-year degree in 2 1/2 years. Very few do. Setting a tight time limit would make it hard to offer “stackable” certificates or integrate developmental instruction in mainstream courses, he adds.
Then there’s the political challenge. Capping student loans and eliminating tuition tax deductions to pay for Pell could alienate middle-class voters, he warns. “Once the middle class decides that a program is really just for the poor, that program tends to wither on the vine.”
College Completion Must Be Our Priority declares an “open letter” from the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment. “All the communities have come together — community colleges, research institutions, public universities and small liberal arts colleges — and reached agreement that completion needs to be our most important priority,” said E. Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State and chair of the commission.
Almost half of students who enroll in a two- or four-year institution fail to earn a degree in six years, notes the New York Times.
(The report) calls on colleges and universities to find ways to give students credit for previous learning, through exams like the College Board’s College-Level Examination Program, portfolio assessments or other college equivalency evaluations. It also calls for more services and flexibility for nontraditional students, suggesting innovations like midnight classes, easier credit transfers and more efficient course delivery, including online classes.
Colleges and universities must adapt to students’ needs, said Molly C. Broad, president of the American Council on Education.
“We have policies and practices built when colleges were filled with full-time, 18- to 22-year-old students who needed to be provided not only educational opportunities, but fed, protected, counseled and given recreation,” she said. “But that’s not our world today, when the overwhelming majority are part-time students juggling jobs, older students, veterans, whom we need to treat fairly — and do it on our own rather than have it done unto us.”
A second report, The American Dream 2.0, warned that borrowers who don’t graduate are “plunged underwater financially.” The report suggests “making the financial aid application process simpler and more transparent, and holding both schools and students accountable for completion,” reports the Times.
As student debt mounts, colleges and universities face pressure to disclose their graduates’ earnings, writes Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.
Joyce English was about to start studying toward an associate degree she hoped would lead to a job as a consultant to healthcare companies around Tacoma, Wash., where she lives.
Then she discovered a database created by the state’s workforce training agency estimating what she’d earn with that degree versus how much she could make in other jobs with other majors and degrees from colleges and universities across the state.
. . . “You obviously want something out of your education,” says English, who changed her mind and is now majoring in what she learned is the more lucrative field of business management at Pierce College. “You don’t want to go into something that’s going to pay you less than it cost to go to college.”
Washington, Florida Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia have released wage information by major, degree and institutution. Colorado, Nevada and Texas will do so soon. Congress is considering a bill that would require every college to disclose the average annual earnings of its graduates.
“I can imagine some hard questions being asked” by parents, students and legislators armed with knowledge like this, says Mark Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research and president of College Measures, which is helping states create such earnings databases.
. . . nearly 90 percent of incoming freshmen say the main reason they enrolled in college was “to be able to get a better job,” UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute reports. “And probably 100 percent of their parents say that,” says Schneider.
“It’s the no-name comprehensives, the regional campuses, the third-tier not-for-profits—their business model is going to be held up and people are going to ask about it,” Schneider says. “ ‘Why are you charging me $40,000 a year? What’s the outcome at the end of the day? What am I getting for all this time and money?’ ”
Higher-education leaders worry students will shun the liberal arts in favor more lucrative majors.
“Follow your passion” should be the message, not “show me the money,” says Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. “Your college decision should be about becoming an educated person—giving yourself a resource that will increase in value your entire life, finding something you care deeply about, and developing the skills to go on learning what you need to learn.”